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Emmy or Not to Emmy?

That's been the long, hard decision for TV academy chairman Bryce Zabel

After security issues were hammered out for what was to have been a bicoastal event (to soothe the fears of East Coast stars who didn't want to fly west), the October 7 date was a go, and during the week prior to the rescheduled ceremony, Zabel felt life returning to a semblance of normalcy; he even attended a handful of nominees' parties, including one sponsored by Entertainment Weeklythat Saturday night. "We all knew what was hanging over us," Zabel says, "but everyone said, 'Look, it's been a long, hard row to hoe, and let's all take a deep breath and relax for a moment and get ready for the next day.'" That night, Zabel went to bed feeling confident. "I told my wife, 'We're ready to go.'"

The next morning, he was lacing up his running shoes for a morning jog when one of the ATAS' governors called and told him to turn on the television. He didn't need to. He knew what was happening: Bombs were being dropped on Afghanistan. The show, he figured at that moment, likely would not go on. With three phone lines working, he talked to CBS execs, ATAS board members, nominees, important show-runners. By noon, Zabel and Moonves agreed once more to postpone the Emmys.

Two hours later, he arrived at the Shrine for a hastily called news conference, an event carried live on CNN--where Zabel once worked as a reporter--and E! Entertainment Network. Zabel recalls that even during his days covering presidential elections, he'd never seen a gathering of reporters quite so large; the whole day was, he says with a slight laugh, "an out-of-body experience." After the conference, Zabel, his wife and Jim Chabin stood on the stage and glanced out at the empty Shrine Auditorium. Behind them stood the giant Emmy statue, waiting in vain to greet TV's biggest stars. Zabel looked at his watch. It read 5 o'clock--show time, only there wasn't to be any.

"I realized war and peace is the largest issue we will face, but there was a sense of loss of what normalcy was supposed to be--what extreme times we do live in," Zabel says. "It had a disorienting effect. It was sad."

Then began the second round of discussions: to Emmy or not to Emmy, such as it were. Zabel says he would have canceled if CBS wanted to, but both parties decided to go forward. To give up after two postponements, Zabel says, would have "smacked of defeat," even though some nominees were openly wishing the whole thing would go away. So, on October 16, Zabel and Moonves announced a new date and a new venue, the 1,800-seat Shubert Theater in Century City. The very next day, Moonves and Zabel--along with Warner Bros. President Peter Roth, Sally Field and other network and studio honchos--met with White House officials to discuss ways the entertainment industry could help in the so-called war against terrorism. Zabel insists two things were notdiscussed: censoring the entertainment industry or the creation of propaganda films.

"We're not being asked to refrain from something, nor were we asked todo something," he says. "It was a meeting about what could be done and a place where we could air opinions on both sides and let the movers and shakers in the entertainment industry put a face with Washington."

Zabel likes to say the past weeks have given him material enough to write a book; he wants only to return to his job as show-runner, to become a "civilian" again, as he puts it. He is tired of being a cheerleader for an awards show taken for granted since its inception in January 1949. He is tired of explaining why it's important for the show to go on at all. He is tired of waiting for an Emmy telecast that seems jinxed. He is tired.

"Not everyone thinks putting the Emmys on TV is important," he says. "Compared to the tragedies that have befallen us, as a TV show it's not important. But I've come to believe what the president and Mayor Giuliani told us: The fabric of America is composed of a lot of little things, and each one contributes to the tapestry of the whole. In the fight against terrorism, even the silliest and least consequential things and things you can live without matter suddenly. We have to hold on to them. We have to embrace them."

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